By Tatsumi Romano, loveisrespect National Youth Advisory Board member
[Trigger Warning: rape and sexual assault]
By now you’ve probably heard that Brock Turner, a former Stanford athlete, was found guilty for three counts of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus on the night of January 17, 2015. Two students passing by tried to help the victim and had to tackle Turner to the ground as he attempted to run away from the scene. Despite the traumatizing assault of a woman who could do nothing to defend herself, Turner received a shockingly light sentence of six months in county jail, with the possibility of release after three months based on good behavior.
How’d they do it? How did Turner’s defense team manage to score such a light sentence for their Ivy League client?
The answer is all too familiar: victim-blaming. Turner’s defense focused on the dangers of intoxication and how the victim must have wanted it, considering her “promiscuous” outfit and state of mind. However, I’m extremely doubtful of how much she might have wanted it, considering her inability to consent due to her being intoxicated, let alone being flat out unconscious.
Just when everyone thought this case couldn’t become more appalling, Dan Turner, the father of the perpetrator, released a statement. In defending his son, Turner wrote that the sentence “is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action…” If I told you I got “20 minutes of action” the other night, you’d probably assume that I had a great hook up with someone I’d been eyeing for some time. You wouldn’t assume this had anything to do with rape, right? At no point would you assume I actually meant that I forced myself on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. This wasn’t just “20 minutes of action.” This was a crime.
And how is a minuscule six months in county jail a steep price to pay for completely violating a woman’s privacy and body and shattering her sense of security? In the statement, Dan Turner elaborates on the potential positive change his son can make, describing the Stanford swimmer as “totally committed to educating other college-age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” First of all, trying to subtly pin the victim for being at fault with her “promiscuity” is tasteless and disgraceful. All of this leads me to ask: Is Brock Turner really that committed to making “positive” changes? If so, why did he choose to spend his Saturday night in 2015 assaulting an intoxicated woman, instead of making sure she found appropriate assistance to get her back to her dorm room safely or receive the medical attention she might have needed?
A sentence of six months for Turner minimizes the pain and terror the survivor in this case and all survivors of assault face. When a person is told that six months in county jail is the punishment that fits the crime, they’re told that their assault doesn’t matter. News like this can be disheartening, and ultimately, we just get down to the question of whether or not it makes a difference to have spoken up at all.
I say yes. Yes, it makes a difference that she spoke up because it shows other survivors who may not be ready to speak – who may never be ready or willing to speak publicly – that they matter and that their experiences are real. While the justice system has failed her with this sentencing, by speaking up she brought this broken system into the public spotlight, where we can join her in this ongoing fight for survivors’ rights. (You can read her powerful and moving statement at the trial here.)
Survivors deserve our support, no matter the outcome of a trial, or even if there never is a trial. Survivors deserve to find ways to heal that work best for them, whether that’s being able to share stories with someone who has endured a similar trauma, speak with a trusted social worker or counselor or any number of healing and self-care activities. Regardless of where a survivor starts, whether they choose to make a report or what the outcome is, they always deserve the opportunity to be heard, met with compassion and reminded of their unconditional worth.